If you’re the superstitious type, you could say that finding a new purpose for an accidentally smashed mirror could be a way to turn around a 7-year fate of bad luck. Now, I’m not superstitious, but when life gives you lemons…make a mosaic coffee table.
The mirror had been given to me by my parents. Not so much a hand-me-down in the sense that it had been in the family for generations, but it had certainly been a staple feature of their hallway when I was growing up. So, when it inexplicably fell and smashed (seriously, it was sitting where it had sat nicely for a year, then just fell!), I felt oddly reluctant to get rid of it. All I could salvage was the frame with it’s backing.
I’d already been thinking about starting a mosaic project, I just hadn’t worked out a way to round-off the edges of a mosaic piece to a standard where it wouldn’t look unfinished as a table. My now large and empty frame seemed like an ideal solution.
As with the majority of DIY projects I take on, I like to keep it to a low budget, so re-use whatever I already have at home wherever possible. Now, I know you may not have the same just lying around, so I’ve tried to offer cheap alternatives where I can think of them.
What you’ll need:
- A frame – local charity shops tend to have outdated art you could take a frame from, or check the freebies section on Gumtree (a haven for budget DIY-ers).
- Supporting board – I used a panel from an IKEA wardrobe we had taken apart, but a sheet of ply or MDF can be cheap and cut to size at your local B&Q.
- Strong glue/’no more nails’ – I already had some wood glue in the house, but you can pick it up pretty cheap from most hardware stores.
- Screws and screwdriver– 2 types for screwing the board to the frame and the legs to the board. The first type should be long enough to go through your board and into (but not through) your frame. For the leg screws, these should be long enough to go through your leg and into (but not through) your board so that they don’t poke through and interfere with your mosaic. The number needed will depend on the size of your project.
- Table legs – I already had some industrial-look hairpin legs from a previous DIY coffee table that was now too small in a bigger flat. The set of 4 cost me about £30 at the time. But on a smaller budget, I would look again to charity shops or the freebies on Gumtree and see what’s on offer that you could pinch legs from.
- Tiles – The ideal would be using anything you might have left from a bathroom or kitchen fit, but I didn’t have any. Instead, I used the cheapest packs available in B&Q plus a few individual test tiles to use as accent colours, ringing in around the £40 mark all together. You could make this significantly cheaper by using just the value £5 packs of 25 if you’re happy with having fewer colours to play with. I actually ended up with too many, so can use them again for future projects. Just remember that if you’re mixing different types, they’ll work better if they’re the same thickness (this was a big learning moment for me that I didn’t consider when buying and would have made mine much easier).
- Hammer – For smashing up tiles.
- Grout – I got both black and white grout, and a rubber grout spreader from B&Q also. White to use as my ‘glue’ for sticking the tiles to the table as it’s cheaper, then black to fill the gaps as I like the look it gives.
- Resin – Avoid art suppliers for this as you’ll pay through the nose. I got a litre of polyester resin for around £15 from a specialist fibreglass retailer in Glasgow. They’d advised me that this would be better for my project than epoxy as they thought epoxy would just yellow. However, I disagree. I ended up trying both, so see below for my learnings here, but long story short I’d recommend GlassCast Epoxy.
- Pencils/chalk & a ruler – To mark up your design.
- Dropcloth/old sheet – To protect the floor (plastic backed would be better when it comes to pouring the resin).
- Duct/strong tape, spirit level and respirator – Needed for the resin pour
Supporting the frame
Before you can do any mosaicing, you’ll need a strong and sturdy foundation. If it’s not already, trim your piece of supporting board to size. You’ll want it to be a couple of inches smaller than your frame so it’s not too visible side-on. If you want to varnish or paint this, I’d do so before attaching to the frame. I was being lazy, so didn’t bother since you can only see it when you look underneath the table.
Once you’re happy with size/colour of your board, you’re ready to attach it to the back of your frame. I used a combination of both strong glue and screws. Lay down your frame and board face-down. Cover the back side of your board in glue and turn over onto the frame so that they stick together evenly across the full surface. Then secure them further with screws use screws, being careful to screw only into the wood and not through the thin backing of your frame – you don’t want any screws poking out when you’re trying to stick tiles down.
Finally, while you’ve got everything upside down already, screw your legs on to the corners of the supporting board (now attached to your frame).
Carefully flip the whole table back the right way up, and if needed, add some weight across the frame to hold it down while your glue dries (I just used the grout and tiles). Most glue takes at least a few hours to dry, but there’s plenty you could be progressing while you wait.
Creating your mosaic
When the glue is dry, you can draw out your design. I couldn’t quite find one that worked for what I wanted, so drew up my own straight onto the frame. However, in the process of searching I did narrow down a bunch of stained glass templates that would make for great mosaic table designs if easier.
I drew mine up in chalk pencil (it’s easier to see) and coloured in the sections so I could plot which tiles would go where before having to place them. Then you’re ready to go. Safely smash up your tiles – use a towel or similar to cover them first – and place them down to make sure everything fits. I found this the most time consuming since it’s a bit like doing a jigsaw with no picture. When you’ve worked out where everything is going, start gluing. It’s easier to do this in batches, with one section of the design placed and glued before moving on to the next. If you’re using a large pot of grout like I did, you might want to scoop some out into a tupperware to work from rather than risk the rest of the pot drying out while you work.
When all your tiles are placed, glued and have dried you can work in the rest of your grout. This is a pretty messy process, and you’ll need to sacrifice a cloth or two to wipe down your tiles, but its satisfying when you get it done!
Pouring the resin
Because I was pregnant during this project, I had to leave the actual resin pouring to my partner (please avoid working directly with resin if you’re pregnant, especially if using polyester). So I can’t claim all the credit for this part and wasn’t in the room to take pictures, but did leave strict instructions and have included our learnings all the same.
As mentioned above, when speaking to a specialist supplier in Glasgow, I was advised that Polysester Resin would be better to use than epoxy for this type of project, their main reason being it wouldn’t have the yellow tint that epoxy can sometimes have. I’d never used polyester before, but had worked with epoxy at uni, so could agree that in some cases it does turn yellow. That was reason enough for me to trust their advice and we went with polyester. Now, having tried it, I can confidently say DO NOT use polyester resin. It takes an age to dry and the chemical smell it emits is incredibly strong and does not go away. We even left the table outside for 2 weeks and it still wouldn’t budge. In the end, we ended up adding a layer of Epoxy resin over the top to try and seal in the smell, which actually worked. Now, if I were to do this again, I’d use GlassCast resin from the start. It dries relatively quickly, clear and has only a slight smell that goes away once it’s cured. Lesson learnt!
To do your pour, make sure you have your work area protected as if you spill resin, it isn’t coming out again. You need to ensure your project is completely level, as resin is a self-levelling substance, but that doesn’t mean it won’t slide on a slant! Use your spirit level and prop up corners with books/coasters as needed to ensure your surface is completely flat.
Then mix your resin according to the ratio in the instructions. Mix slowly so as not to beat in any bubbles, but do give it a good solid 3-5 minutes of stirring to ensure the hardener and resin are completely blended. Don’t get lazy at this point, if they’re not totally blended, the mixture might not set and you won’t be able to fix it once on the table.
Then pour. I pour most of the mixture in the middle, but also a little bit in each corner. Then watch as the mix levels out across the surface. If needed, use your mixing stick to push the resin into areas if needed, but again, go slow and don’t work in bubbles. Then leave it to set. Each brand of resin will have a different curing time, so refer to your instructions and don’t be tempted to prod it before then. If it’s not quite dry yet, you could leave finger prints or other marks.
The table worked out pretty well, and I’ve had lots of compliments on it. It works really nicely as a table, but make sure to use coasters under anything hot so as not to mark the surface.
However, there are a lot of things I did wrong that meant this actually became a rather expensive project for me, when it really didn’t need to be! So, to keep this budget-friendly with a nice speedy turnaround, learn from my mistakes:
- When picking a frame, the shallower the better so that you need less resin to fill it. If you do have a deeper frame, consider lining it with something like a sheet of plastic, or polyfiller before tiling. Cardboard might work, but might also be a bit too absorbent when grouting – maybe do a test piece first and see how the grout reacts.
- When chossing tiles, make sure they’re all the same thickness. Again, this means you’ll need less resin to cover them if they’re all already at one level. It also just looks neater.
- Avoid polyester resin. Unless you’ve got a work are outwith your house and don’t intend to actually use your table for a month or two, you’ll be much better off avoiding the stink with epoxy resin. However, look out for ones with good reviews about drying clear!
I’ll definitely be trying this again and will post about how round two goes when the time comes. In the meantime, let me know if you’ve tried a mosaic table and whether there are any further learnings you can share too!